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Today in Marine Corps History

monument of the flag raising in Iwo Jima

If you’re a Marine or just a big fan of Marines, here’s some information to help you recognize their major milestones over the course of American history.

November 10, 1775: The Continental Congress passes legislation that two Marine battalions be raised for service as landing parties in the Continental Navy. The Marines served throughout the Revolutionary War, but in 1783 at the end of the war, they were completely disbanded. In 1798, 15 years later, they would be formed again. Despite the break in service, Nov. 10, 1775 is still considered to be the “birthday” of the U.S. Marines Corps. So, today in Marine Corps history marks the birthday of the Marine Corps.

March 3, 1776:  Today in Marine Corps history, the Marines descended on Fort Nassau in the Bahamas. The British military had been storing munitions in the Bahamas for use against the colonies in the Revolutionary War. Initially, more than 200 barrels of gunpowder were moved from Virginia to the Bahamas by the British. Learning of the cache, the newly formed Continental Marines sailed to the Bahamas with 235 Marines and captured not just full stores of gunpowder, but also other weapons. The British surrendered within minutes after the Marines came ashore.

April 27, 1805: Today in Marine Corps history the Battle of Derna began. There are a lot of misconceptions from this battle, but what isn’t up for debate is that it was a decisive victory. The battle was led by U.S. Army Lt. William Eaton who helped organize a mercenary army which included eight U.S. Marines under the command of U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon. Pirates were raiding ships off the Barbary Coast so American forces were sent to protect American ships. The eight Marines who fought there wore high leather collars with their uniforms to protect against saber cuts, hence their nickname, “leathernecks.” The force landed and after recruiting a multinational force which included Greeks and Arabs, they marched 600 miles to Derna, Libya where they fought. They also rescued the crew of the USS Philadelphia which had been held hostage. The victory helped secure trading areas and protected U.S. ships. It was the first victory for the Marines on a foreign land and the first time U.S. forces, albeit a tiny force, fought on foreign soil.

Sept. 13, 1847: Today in Marine Corps history the Battle of Chapultepec was fought as part of the Mexican American War. More than 7,000 U.S. Army soldiers, including Ulysses Grant, George Pickett, James Longstreet, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and 400 U.S. Marines fought their way into the Palacio Nacional. Accounts vary from those who were there, but about 40 Marines participated in the storming of the castle. Marines suffered a 90 percent casualty rate. The battle would earn a place in the Marine Corps Hymn as “The Halls of Montezuma.” The palacio is still used today by the Mexican government. Marine Corps tradition maintains that the red stripe is worn on the trousers of the dress blues uniform, known as the blood stripe, to show respect for the Marine non-commissioned and commissioned officers who died while storming Chapultepec, even though iterations of the stripe predate the war.

June 7, 1918: Today in Marine Corps history, outside of Paris in Belleau Wood, the 4th Marine Brigade fixed bayonets and charged at the enemy. They endured low supplies, heavy casualties and blistering enemy fire. After 20 days of intense fighting against the Germans, the Marines won the battle and the Germans labeled them “Devil Dogs” for fighting so tenaciously.

Feb. 23, 1945: Today in Marine Corps history the Marines were sent in to capture airfields on Iwo Jima. The battle lasted 36 days and the Marines struggled with high casualties, terrain that was full of tunnels (and enemy), and a relentless Japanese military that would die rather than surrender. Early in the battle, a group of Marines raised the flag over Mt. Suribachi as a way to encourage Marines below to keep fighting. Later, Marines returned to that summit and replaced the flag with a larger one. The iconic moment was photographed and is likely the most known image of World War II.

Nov. 27, 1950: Today in Marine Corps history, at the Chosin Reservoir, the 1st Marine Division found itself surrounded and outnumbered 8 to 1 by the Chinese Army. Without air support, the Marines were cut off and were forced to fight in temperatures reaching -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Nonetheless, the “Chosin Few” as they would be called, killed 10 Chinese divisions and fought their way back to the sea as UN forces retreated.

March 2, 1968: Today in Marine Corps history, after 33 days of fighting in what is considered the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War, outnumbered Marines fought a vicious battle in Hue City against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. The battle started with the Tet Offensive on the first night of the Vietnamese lunar new year and hundreds of attacks were launched across the country. In the end, after block by block fighting, the Marines retook the city.

Jan. 17, 1991: Today in Marine Corps history, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, a coalition of international forces launched Operation Desert Storm to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Marine aviators used airpower to help destroy Iraq’s air and naval forces, antiair defenses and missile launchers. The 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions attacked through Iraq’s southern border while 8,000 Marines kept the Iraqi army distracted in the north. The ground war lasted less than 100 hours.

Nov. 25, 2001: Today in Marine Corps history, just two months after the 9-11 attacks, about 1,000 Marines were the first major conventional ground force in Afghanistan sent to fight Al-Qaeda. In 2004, Afghanistan held its first elections. In June 2010, the war in Afghanistan became the longest war in U.S. history. The war is still being fought and more than 114,000 Marines have served in Afghanistan. Two Marines, Dakota Meyer and Kyle Carpenter earned the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan.

March 19, 2003: Today in Marine Corps history, the U.S. military launches the invasion of Iraq first by air, then by land as Marines fight in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. While they served in many roles and in many fights, their most known is Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah in November 2004. The majority of Marine battles were fought in urban environments making the fighting challenging because of booby traps and an enemy that often used remotely detonated weapons to fight. Jason Dunham was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq.

Celebrities Who Served in the Military

Whether they are sports legends, movie stars, artists, or musicians, there are numerous celebrities who served in the military and have worn the uniform. Some of these celebrities who served in the military spent a few years in the ranks, others didn’t last that long, and just a few made a career out of it.

I can’t write about all of them, but here is a list of celebrities who served in the military, two celebrities for every branch.

U.S. Army
Pat Tillman was a National Football League (NFL) player who felt compelled to serve after the 9-11 attacks. Once he completed his 2001 season, he left his sports career and a $3 million yearly contract and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002, eventually becoming a Ranger. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and he was mistakenly killed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2004, according to the Army. His death and the Army’s attempt to cover it up was controversial. According to those who served with him, Tillman was a popular soldier and he exemplified the Ranger Creed. Tillman was the first professional football player to be killed in combat since Bob Kalsu who was killed in the Vietnam War in 1970.

Army Photo of Pat Tillman In Uniform with Flag in the background.

James Earl Jones is known for his voice and his commanding presence on the movie screen, but he is also one of our celebrities who served in the military. Jones attended the University of Michigan where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1953 and he completed the Infantry Officers Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. He later attended Ranger school. His immediately recognizable voice is due in large part to the fact that he is the voice of Star Wars villain Darth Vader for the first movies in the series. He is also the voice who tells news viewers that they are watching CNN and many adults once knew him when they were children as the voice of Mufasa in Disney’s animated film, The Lion King.

Other famous celebrities who served in the military are Army veterans singer/actor Elvis Presley, rock star Jimi Hendrix, singer/songwriter/actor Kris Kristofferson, television host Pat Sajak, baseball player Jackie Robinson, actor/comedian Mel Brooks, cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, rapper/actor Ice-T, actor Mr. T, and crooner Tony Bennett.

U.S. Marine Corps
Bob Keeshan enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1945 hoping to get into the fight against the Japanese in World War II, but he never made it overseas. He did earn his Eagle, Globe and Anchor. After the Corps, Keeshan went on to create Captain Kangaroo, an immensely successful television show for kids which aired from 1955 to 1984 and rivaled the success of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Keeshan died in 2004.

Photo of Actor Adam Driver in Marine Corps Class A Dress Uniform

Actor Adam Driver, is the second Marine in our list to be a Star Wars villain. He played Kylo Ren and has seen great success as a movie star after he left the Marine Corps where he was discharged after almost three years of service for an injury that he received mountain biking. Since leaving the Corps, Driver studied acting at the Juilliard School, has been on Broadway and in numerous films and he founded Arts in the Armed Forces, a non-profit that brings arts programming to service members and veterans around the world free of charge.

Other celebrities who served in the military are Marines actor Gene Hackman, actress Bea Arthur, rapper Shaggy, comedian Drew Carey, actor George C. Scott, television host Montel Williams, comedian Rob Riggle (who retired from the USMCR), actor Harvey Keitel, actor Lee Marvin, and actor Steve McQueen. 

U.S. Navy
NFL legend quarterback Roger Staubach graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1965. According to the Navy, as a midshipman, Staubach earned college football’s top honor, The Heisman Trophy and after graduating in 1965, Staubach served four years of active duty service in the Navy, including one year of overseas duty in Vietnam. Staubach played in the NFL for 11 years with the Dallas Cowboys and led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories. He was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1985.

Actor Paul Newman in Blue Sailor Uniform

Film legend Paul Newman was known for his many movies like Cool Hand Luke, and his voice work as Doc Hudson in the Disney animated movie, Cars. He was also an avid car racing buff and his philanthropic work with his food line, Newman’s Own is still contributing to many charities. But Newman was also a decorated Navy seaman who served in the Pacific theatre during World War II as a gunner on an Avenger torpedo bomber. He served from 1943-46. He was fortunate once when his plane was grounded due to a pilot’s ear infection. The ship he was supposed to be flying to, the USS Bunker Hill, was sunk by a kamikaze bomber and Newman’s unit suffered major casualties. He died in 2008.

Other celebrities who served in the military are Navy veterans actor Jason Robards, jazz great John Coltrane, rapper MC Hammer, actor Humphrey Bogart, television host Johnny Carson, actor Kirk Douglas, television host Bob Barker, actor Henry Fonda, pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura, and baseball great Yogi Berra.

U.S. Air Force
James Stewart the actor from the holiday film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, became the first American movie star to enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II in February 1941. He applied for an officer commission and as a college graduate and a licensed pilot he was commissioned into the Air Corps. During World War II he would hold a variety of positions, including service as a unit commander. He flew 20 missions as a bomber pilot and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Croix de Guerre. After World War II, Stewart remained in the Air Force Reserve and he ascended to the rank of brigadier general. His last combat mission was in 1966 over Vietnam as a non-duty observer in a B-52. He retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1968 after 27 years of service and after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60. He died in 1997.

Singer Johnny Cash in Air Force Uniform

Before he was the man in black, Johnny Cash enlisted in the Air Force in 1950 attending basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Cash would become a Morse code operator charged with intercepting Soviet army transmissions. He left the Air Force four years later in July 1954 as a staff sergeant. A year later, Cash recorded his first rockabilly style songs and thus began his epic music journey which made him a music legend. He died in 2003.

Other celebrities who served in the military are Air Force veterans painter/television host Bob Ross, writer Michael Blake (Dances with Wolves), actor/martial arts badass Chuck Norris, actor Morgan Freeman, comedian George Carlin, television host Sunny Anderson, comedian Flip Wilson, Olympian Louis Zamperini, singer Mel Tillis, and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

U.S. Coast Guard
Actor Jeff Bridges served as a boatswain’s mate from 1967-1975 and left the Coast Guard Reserve as a petty officer second class. Bridges has made more than 70 movies, including Iron Man and True Grit, but he achieved a cult-like following as the White Russian-drinking, pot smoking, bowler, The Dude, in the 1998 movie, The Big Lebowski. His father and brother, also actors, both served in the Coast Guard Reserve and Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Author Alex Haley in Army Dress Uniform

Alex Haley enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939 after attending college. Haley enlisted as a mess attendant third class since the mess attendant and steward’s mate ratings were the only ratings in the Coast Guard open to minorities at that time, according to the Coast Guard. He saw service in the Pacific Theater in 1944 and he made money with a side hustle penning love letters for his shipmates. He also freelanced and submitted articles about war duty and sea service for Coast Guard publications. At one point, Haley became the only chief journalist in the Coast Guard, serving as the assistant public affairs officer at the Coast Guard’s New York City headquarters. In 1959, he retired from the Coast Guard after 20 years of service to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time writer. Seventeen years after his retirement, he published the international best-seller, Roots: The Saga of an American Family in 1976. The book was later made into a television mini-series. Haley died in 1992.

Other celebrities who served in the military are Coasties actor Lloyd Bridges, hockey legend John Mariucci, boxing great Jack Dempsey, actor Chris Cooper, actor Beau Bridges, golf great Arnold Palmer, film maker Blake Edwards, actor Buddy Ebsen, actor Cesar Romero, and news broadcaster Charles Gibson.

U.S. Space Force
Steve Carell served as a general in the U.S. Space Force. Okay, just kidding, that’s a television show, but maybe right now in the Space Force ranks there is someone who might become a famous celebrity after wearing the Space Force uniform.

For now, the newest branch of the U.S. military is too new to have anyone to have served and gone on to earn fame.

The Army National Guard Flag

Picture of the Army National Guard Flag

Drive through any town in the United States and in addition to the U.S. flag you might see a service specific flag mounted on a front porch alongside of Old Glory. Veterans like to show their service pride. It isn’t uncommon to find an Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard or Space Force flag flying on the home of a veteran.

When I was in the Army National Guard, some of my fellow Guard personnel flew an Army National Guard flag on their drill weekends as a way to let their neighbors know that they were on duty for their community and country. They also posted the Army National Guard flag when they went away for training or when they were on their annual training orders, and when they got mobilized to serve overseas in America’s war on terror.

Flags have their roots in military history. They were initially used to signal forces on the battlefield. China is credited for having the first flags that represented a ruler. Today, there is an international maritime flag signal code still in use, but the bottom line is, if you fly a particular flag, it conveys a message about who you are and what you believe.

The Army National Guard flag is easily identifiable. It has a Revolutionary War minuteman holding a musket on it, but in case someone doesn’t recognize the flag, “Army National Guard” is emblazoned on the seal. But while the Army National Guard flag might be easily recognized, the purpose and mission of the National Guard remains a mystery for some Americans, much like military service.

Americans know that there are military people who respond and help during natural disasters and civil unrest. Some of those people might know that the uniformed personnel are from the National Guard, but ask them to offer some details about the National Guard and most will answer with a shrug.

According to National Guard historians, the National Guard traces its lineage to English colonial militias that were formed to combat Native Americans in 1636. Some states, like Florida, claim that their military heritage dates back farther than 1636. The Florida National Guard, for example, traces its heritage to 1565 when Spanish colonial militias first mustered. These militias required all able-bodied men to keep a musket and to muster as needed to defend the colony. The militias were usually under local control and led by a leader elected to the position.

In the 1700s, the militias continued defending their colonies as colonial expansion provoked Native Americans to fight, but the militias fought other nations as well to control interests in America. Eventually, the English colonial militias became American militias when they took up arms against the British Empire in the Revolutionary War. Since its inception, the National Guard has fought in most American Wars and it has responded to many domestic emergencies.

During peacetime each state, the district of Columbia and three U.S. territories, have a National Guard that is led by an adjutant general who reports to the governor. During national emergencies, however, the U.S. president can mobilize the National Guard, putting them in federal duty status. Governors can mobilize their National Guards domestically for emergencies.

According to the National Guard, “Even when not federalized, the Army National Guard has a federal obligation (or mission). That mission is to maintain properly trained and equipped units, available for prompt mobilization for war, national emergency, or as otherwise needed.”

The Army National Guard’s state mission is perhaps the most visible. National Guard units respond to wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, pandemics or other emergency situations, including civil unrest.

Yet, despite its high visibility missions, the Army National Guard has struggled with brand recognition. The Army National Guard's logo, which has been used since the 1950s, does not resonate with Americans of military service age. The Minuteman logo, as it is often referred to, is not reflective of a modern Army. The Minuteman logo is on the Army National Guard flag.

A few years ago, the Army Marketing and Research Group (AMRG) studied the Army National Guard’s logo and concluded that “The Minuteman, an image revered by many in the ARNG [Army National Guard], was not well understood or recognized in testing,” according to the 2019 Army National Guard Branding Guidelines. “Department of Defense research has not found that a service’s history is a strong motivator for youth to consider military service; as such, ARNG does not plan to use the Minuteman in its recruiting efforts.”

The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2017 directed the Army National Guard to merge its marketing activities with the AMRG. The directive ordered the Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard to consolidate into a single organization, all marketing functions to ensure unity of effort and cost effectiveness. This congressionally mandated change came from 2015 recommendations of the National Commission on the Future of the Army.

In December 2018, the Army National Guard introduced its new brand and branding guidelines for all U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia. The most noticeable change was removal of the minuteman from the Army National Guard flag and the use of a new logo. The minuteman is no longer used for external marketing.

The new logo includes a gold star on a black background and the words “Army National Guard” emblazoned on a shield-like shape, using gold and white lettering. The name of the state, territory or district is included on the new logo. The new Army National Guard logo closely resembles the Army’s logo.

Picture of the New Army National Guard Flag without minuteman

Army officials have said that the goal of the rebrand was to show that the Army National Guard was an important part of the Total Force and that the Army National Guard works in harmony with its Army Reserve and active Army counterparts.

Another goal of the Army National Guard’s rebrand was to make the service more appealing and reflective of a modernized military to help align local and national marketing efforts. The hope is that the strategy will better communicate the Army National Guard’s mission and make the brand more recognizable at a local level by tying it to the larger Army.

“The logo-specific research involved several potential logo options, color schemes, shapes, and elements reflecting ARNG [Army National Guard] legacy imagery such as the Minuteman and a stylized flag,” the 2019 Army National Guard Branding Guidelines states. “For every option tested, a State-specific version was also tested. The approved logo performed best among prospects and influencers. Data analysis did not find significant regional differences in logo preferences. The Minuteman, an image revered by many in the ARNG, was not well understood or recognized in testing.”

I asked the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the Army’s Center of Military History earlier this year if they believed that aligning the Army National Guard’s lineage to the English colonial militias was socially responsible given the English militia’s violent past against Native Americans, and given the social justice current in American society. They never responded directly to the question.

“The Center of Military History currently has no effort underway to evaluate the lineage and honors of units and determine whether the members of any particular unit might have been involved in a human rights violation,” U.S. Army Center of Military History Chief Historian Jon Hoffman said.

While NGB and the U.S. Army Center of Military History will not revisit the Army National Guard’s historical alignment, the AMRG’s study on the Minuteman logo captured how some in American society feel about what the era of the minuteman represents.

“In each focus group location, the Minuteman drew some negative reactions from participants due to an association with eras in American history that were not empowering for women and people of color,” The Army’s Branding Guidelines say. “Due to the significance of the Minuteman in the proud history of the Guard, and the youth market’s general disinterest in history as a motivator to consider ARNG [Army National Guard] service, HRR does not recommended use of the Minuteman in recruiting.”

The Army National Guard has said the Minuteman logo will continue to be used internally. On the National Guard’s website the Minuteman logo is still displayed and used prevalently as a symbol to represent the broader National Guard, which includes the Air and Army National Guards. There is no firm deadline as to when the Army National Guard will stop using the Minuteman logo.

The minuteman Army National Guard flag, like flags of old, signals a message. It communicates, but what it conveys depends on who is looking at it.

America's Cold War Missing in Action

On 15 April 1969, a U.S. Navy EC-121M Warning Star, call sign Deep Sea 129, took off from Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, on an intelligence-gathering reconnaissance mission code named Beggar Shadow. The code name was used to describe the Cold War reconnaissance program of the U.S. Navy that collected intelligence and monitored communications between Soviet Bloc nations.

There were 31 sailors and one Marine aboard the aircraft. Nine of the aircrew were with the Naval Security Group and worked as cryptologic technicians, Russian linguists and Korean linguists. Warning Stars were equipped with a fuselage radar enabling crews to conduct long range patrols where they conducted electronic surveillance and helped detect hostile intentions. They collected signal intelligence.

The flight path of the Deep Sea 129 was to take it over the Sea of Japan and when it reached a particular point off the coast of North Korea, the aircraft would turn northeast and then fly over an area more than 100 miles long, flying in an oval pattern and then returning to Osan Air Base in South Korea. It was a minimal risk mission and the plane planned to fly, as usual, in international airspace over international waters. Similar flights had occurred for two years and nearly 200 missions had been flown that year.

Several hours after the mission started, North Korea scrambled jets, two MiG-21s. At 1300 hours, Deep Sea 129 filed a routine status report via radio and did not report anything out of the ordinary. Sensing that the MiGs were enroute to intercept Deep Sea 129, Deep Sea 129 was messaged and the aircraft commander aborted the mission and began to return to base. At 1347 hours, the MiGs’ radar track was co-located with that of Deep Sea 129 and minutes later, Deep Sea 129 disappeared from the radar.

North Korean media stated that the aircraft was downed by a single shot. U.S. officials interpreted that to mean it was shot down by an air-to-air missile. Eight officers and 23 enlisted men, 31 personnel, were killed in what is still considered the largest single loss of a U.S. aircrew during the Cold War.

These 31 men are just a fraction of the personnel listed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) as missing in action from the Cold War. DPAA’s mission is to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel to their families and the nation. Their job is to actively search for those who are missing from World War II to the present.

Today, 126 service members from 14 missions remain unaccounted for from the Cold War. There are about 82,000 personnel still missing from every major conflict since World War II, of that, more than 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea. Some estimates show that at least 4,400 are missing from World War I.

In 2019, DPAA found 217 missing personnel and brought them home. This year, DPAA has found 50 WWII MIA personnel, 20 Korean War MIA personnel and one person missing in Vietnam.

Thousands of service members risked their lives while collecting intelligence on the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea during the Cold War. However, since their sacrifices were made away from traditional battlefields, they are often overlooked by history. Cold War incidents took place near North Korea, the East China Sea, the Straits of Formosa, the People’s Republic of China, North Vietnam, and over or near the Soviet Union.

On Jan. 18, 1953, a P2V-5 Neptune with 13 crew members took off from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, on a shipping surveillance mission in the China Sea. While flying along the Chinese coast, the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The damaged aircraft was forced to make an emergency water landing in the Taiwan Strait.

All 13 crew members escaped the Neptune before it sank, and the most seriously wounded were placed onto a raft. While awaiting rescue, two crew members were washed toward shore and never seen again. A U.S. Coast Guard PBM5-G aircraft arrived from the Philippines, made a water landing and rescued eleven from the water. Due to rough seas, the PBM could not takeoff and it crashed into the water. Eventually, the USS Halsey Powell arrived and rescued three of the Coast Guardsmen and seven of the Neptune's crew. The remaining six members of the Neptune's crew were never found.

According to DPAA, these are the Cold War missions with missing personnel, listed in chronological order. Sadly, they are considered non-recoverable and they are listed as unaccounted for.  

  • April 8, 1950, a U.S. Navy PB4Y2 Privateer aircraft flying out of Wiesbaden, Germany, was shot down by Soviet fighters over the Baltic Sea. The entire crew of 10 remains unaccounted for.
  • 6, 1951, a U.S. Navy P2V Neptune aircraft was shot down over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew of 10 remains unaccounted for.
  • June 13, 1952, a U.S. Air Force RB-29 aircraft was shot down over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew of 12 remains unaccounted for.
  • Oct. 7, 1952, a U.S. Air Force RB-29 aircraft was shot down north of Hokkaido Island, Japan. Of the eight crewmen on board, seven remain unaccounted for.
  • Nov. 28, 1952, a civilian C-47 aircraft flying over China was shot down, and one American civilian remains unaccounted for.
  • Jan. 18, 1953, a U.S. Navy P2V aircraft with 13 crewmen aboard was shot down by the Chinese, in the Formosa Straits. Six crew members remain unaccounted for.
  • July 29, 1953, a U.S. Air Force RB-50 aircraft was shot down over the Sea of Japan. Of the 17 crew members on board, 14 remain unaccounted for.
  • May 6, 1954, a C-119 aircraft flying over Northern Vietnam was shot down. One of the two Americans onboard remains unaccounted for.
  • April 17, 1955, a U.S. Air Force RB-47 aircraft was shot down near the southern point of Kamchatka, Russia. The entire crew of three remains unaccounted for.
  • Aug. 22, 1956, a U.S. Navy P4M aircraft was shot down off the coast of China. Of the 16 crew members on board, 12 remain unaccounted for.
  • Sept. 10, 1956, a U.S. Air Force RB-50 aircraft with a crew of 16, was lost in Typhoon Emma over the Sea of Japan. The entire crew remains unaccounted for.
  • July 1, 1960, a U.S. Air Force RB-47 aircraft was shot down over the Barents Sea. Of the six crew members on board, three remain unaccounted for.
  • Dec. 14, 1965, a U.S. Air Force RB-57 aircraft was lost over the Black Sea. The entire crew of two remains unaccounted for.
  • April 15, 1969, a U.S. Navy EC-121 aircraft was shot down by North Korean fighters. Of the 31 men on board, 29 remain unaccounted for.

If you have a family member who is missing in action, please visit the DPAA FamWeb for more information.

Coast Guardsmen Earn Distinguished Flying Crosses, Air Medals

Four Coast Guardsmen in Full Dress Uniform

On Aug. 6, 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard presented helicopter crew members from Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for a daring rescue in 2019 in California.

The pilot of the MH-65 Dolphin, Cmdr. Derek Schramel and aviation survival technician (rescue swimmer) Petty Officer 1st Class Graham McGinnis received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Their fellow crewmates, co-pilot Lt. j.g. Adam Ownbey and aviation maintenance technician Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Cook, received Air Medals. 

The crews rescued two injured firefighters who were unable to evacuate from a burning mountain during a wildfire in the early morning of Sept. 6, 2019. The U.S. Forest Service requested Coast Guard assistance in rescuing the firefighters who had been injured by falling rocks in the Trinity Alps Wilderness Area in Northern California.

The crew flew over the area in the early morning darkness as fires raged below them. They conducted hoist operations and a rescue swimmer was lowered and recovered the injured firefighters who had been struck by a “car-battery-sized rock” and had sustained a broken femur, head lacerations and neck injuries. The injured were flown to the Weaverville airport and transferred to ambulances.

The injured firefighters were extracted just 10 yards from the fire line in a clearing that fire crews had cut to enable the extraction. The victims were hoisted from more than 200 feet above the scorched earth.

A video of the rescue shows the rescue with fires burning under the crew. The audio is of flight mechanic and pilots coordinating aircraft movements; discussing hazards such as nearby trees, fire and smoke: and tracking progress of the rescue swimmer deployed to the ground to hoist the injured.

“It was just the best example of what we aspire to in naval aviation, in Coast Guard rescuing and in lifesaving operations,” said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, the Eleventh Coast Guard District commander. "Devotion to duty is embodied in this rescue by the aircrew’s decisions.”

These military medals aren't easy to earn. The Distinguished Flying Cross is the nation's highest award for extraordinary aerial achievement. As a valor decoration, it is awarded to recipients for heroism while participating in an aerial flight.

The Air Medal is a prestigious award that is presented to an armed forces member who has distinguished themselves by heroic or meritorious achievement in aerial flight.

According to the award citation, "the flight crew's outstanding airmanship and devotion to duty reflect great credit upon themselves and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard."

Army Begins Issuing New Uniform

Four US Army soldiers in new AGSU Uniforms

Soldiers in the U.S. Army over the years have worn a lot of different uniforms. In the past 20 years there has been an uptick in uniform variations and soldiers have worn the Battle Dress Uniform, Desert Camouflage Uniform, Army Combat Uniform (ACU), and the Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP).

Deployments in the aftermath of 9/11 presented problems for some of these uniforms when worn while forward. In particular, there were issues with camouflage and durability, and thus began a long experimentation with field uniforms. There is hope that the OCP is here to stay, at least for a little while.

Then for some reason, in 2018, the Army decided it should turn its attention to the Army’s service uniform. When I was in, we had the green Class A uniform. I hated it, but luckily, I only had to wear it when I was working in D.C. and every now and then for boards, pictures, that kind of thing.

Shortly before I retired, the Army started tossing around the idea of a new service uniform that more closely resembled the mess blues. Known as the Army Service Uniform (ASU), or dress blues, there is no doubt that they looked sharp, but that does not translate to applicability in everyday military life. The complaints came in and many said that the uniform wasn’t practical for everyday business wear. It was too formal.

Enter the Army Green Service Uniform (AGSU), also known as "greens" or "pink and green uniform."

After a few years of testing, feedback, more testing and modifications, on July 8, 2020, the Army began to issue its newest uniform, the AGSU, to recruiting students at Fort Knox. Sales for other soldiers who would like to buy them began July 10. According to the Army, the AGSU is a “nostalgic nod to the greatest generation — who fought in World War II.”

Female Army soldier getting new AGSU Uniform tailored

The Army said drill sergeants are expected to be the next group to receive the uniforms, and new recruits in basic combat training and one-station unit training are expected to be issued the uniforms in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021.

Fort Sill, Oklahoma, will be the first training location to issue the uniform, followed by Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Benning, Georgia; and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Army officials said.

Active-duty enlisted soldiers, including Active Guard and Reserve soldiers, will continue to receive their annual clothing-replacement allowance to offset the new uniform’s cost. Other Guard and Reserve Soldiers will begin receiving uniforms no later than the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021.

The Army will stop issuing the ASU and the uniform will continue to be optional and serve as a dress uniform for all soldiers requiring a formal attire. The mandatory wear date for all soldiers is Oct. 1, 2027.

“For the past year, I’ve been wearing the Army Greens,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph M. Martin. “Wherever I go, people tell me they love the uniform.

“As we transition to the next phase of the rollout,” Martin said, “I’m excited for the soldiers who are about to receive the uniform. I think that when they see themselves in the mirror, they’ll feel connected to the soldiers of the past and realize they’re writing the next chapter of what people feel about our Army.”

For more information about the new AGSU visit:

Happy 230th Birthday U.S. Coast Guard

Painting of US Coast Guard rescue diver saving woman in the the sea with Seahawk helicopter overhead

The U.S. Coast Guard celebrates 230 years of service to the nation August 4 and today, like most days, they will be busy impacting the lives of Americans through their missions.

Each day the Coast Guard investigates 45 search and rescue cases, saves 10 lives and more than $1.2 million in property, as well as seizing nearly 900 pounds of cocaine and more than 200 pounds of marijuana.

Yet because of its law enforcement and rescue missions, and the fact that it is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is often dismissed as a military service, and many incorrectly believe it is not a part of the U.S. military. While it is true that the Coast Guard is a part of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Department of Defense, it is officially a part of the U.S. military.

Title 14 U.S. Code states that “The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times. The Coast Guard shall be a service in the Department of Homeland Security, except when operating as a service in the Navy.”   

Title 14 U.S. Code also states: “Upon the declaration of war if Congress so directs in the declaration or when the President directs, the Coast Guard shall operate as a service in the Navy, and shall so continue until the President, by Executive order, transfers the Coast Guard back to the Department of Homeland Security.”

The Coast Guard’s beginning can be traced to August 1789, when Congress created the Lighthouse Establishment. According to the Coast Guard, the U.S. government “accepted title to, and joined jurisdiction over, the 12 lighthouses then in existence, and provided that the necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers erected, placed, or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor, or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States.’ Prior to this time the lighthouses had been paid for, built and administered first by the colonies and then the states.”

A little less than a year later, on August 4, 1790, the U.S. Congress authorized the construction of 10 cutters known variously as the system of cuttersRevenue Service, and Revenue-Marine, it would officially be named the Revenue Cutter Service in 1863. The cutters were placed under the control of the Treasury Department to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and to prevent smuggling. August 4 became the official Coast Guard birthday.

In 1915 the service received its current name when the Revenue Cutter Service was merged with the Life-Saving Service, providing the nation with a maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws.

When the United States entered World War I, it sent the Coast Guard under the operational control of the U.S. Navy. In 1918, the Coast Guard cutter Tampa was attacked by a German submarine in Bristol Channel and the ship sank with all hands aboard; 111 Coast Guardsmen, four U.S. Navy sailors, and 16 passengers.

During World War II, the Coast Guard augmented the U.S. Navy and at Guadalcanal on Sept. 27, 1942, U.S. Coast Guard Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro earned the Medal of Honor posthumously. He is the Coast Guard’s only recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Painting of US Coast Guard fighting in WWII landing boats.

Approximately 240,000 men and women served in the Coast Guard during WWII. More than 600 died in combat and almost 2,000 Coast Guardsmen were decorated for their service, six received the Navy Cross. The Coast Guard returned to the operational control of the Treasury Department in January 1946.

During the Korean War, the Coast Guard helped evacuate the Korean peninsula during the first North Korean attack. The Coast Guard also established several long-range navigation stations in Korea and Japan that assisted United Nations forces.

In 1967, the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard was mobilized again. President Lyndon B. Johnson deployed Coast Guard vessels to the Vietnam War, and they conducted interdiction and combat missions. The Coast Guard also provided port security, Explosives Loading Detachments, installation and maintenance of aids-to-navigation, established long range navigation stations in both Vietnam and Thailand and Coast Guard pilots conducted search and rescue missions with the U.S. Air Force.

Roughly 8,000 Coast Guard personnel served in Vietnam, supporting both combat and traditional service missions. Seven members of the Coast Guard died in the Vietnam War and approximately 60 were wounded.

In August 1990, the Coast Guard was sent overseas for Operation Desert Shield to support the enforcement of United Nations sanctions. Later that month 550 members of the Coast Guard Reserve were called to active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield. This was the first involuntary overseas mobilization of the Coast Guard Reserve. By war’s end, more than 900 Coast Guard reservists would be called up.

In January 1991, the Coast Guard took 23 prisoners while patrolling oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and during Desert Storm Coast Guard aircraft flew environmental protection missions in the region when Iraq intentionally spilled oil into the ocean.

In 1999, the Coast Guard deployed to the Adriatic Sea in support of Operation Allied Force and Operation Noble Anvil. The Coast Guard provided surface surveillance and search and rescue response and force protection.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard was transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Coast Guard deployed cutters and primarily assisted in force protection and search and seizures of suspected smugglers in Iraqi and international waters. Coast Guard military advisers trained and mentored the Iraqi Navy and they provided technical assistance to Iraqi officials on the implementation of international port security standards and requirements. 

The Coast Guard sent Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment teams to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The teams assisted the units of other services with the proper declaration, classification, labeling and packaging of container shipments as well as the inspection of containers for structural integrity to ensure each one is seaworthy to cut down on potential shipping problems.

In April 2004, Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal, became the first Coast Guardsman to die in a combat zone since the Vietnam War. He was killed in a suicide boat attack on a Basra oil terminal off the coast of Iraq performing maritime security.

At the height its involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Coast Guard deployed more than 1,200 men and women, including about 500 reservists, 11 ships, four port-security units, law enforcement detachments, and other specialized teams and support staff in order to perform a wide range of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf.

When it is not at war, the Coast Guard is the primary federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways. The Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways, and safeguards an economic zone encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from north of the Arctic Circle to south of the equator, from Puerto Rico to Guam, encompassing nine time zones.

In addition to its role as an Armed Service, the Coast Guard is a first responder and humanitarian service that provides aid to people in distress or impacted by disasters whether at sea or ashore. The Coast Guard is a member of the intelligence community and is a law enforcement and regulatory agency with broad legal authorities associated with maritime transportation, hazardous materials shipping, bridge administration, oil spill response, pilotage, and vessel construction and operation.

“Recently, the Coast Guard has been integral in overseeing the disembarkation of 250,000 from cruise ships to reduce risks under COVID-19 emergency,” U.S. Coast Guard Spokesperson Lt. Commander Brittany Panetta said. The outbreak of COVID-19 on cruise ships triggered the Coast Guard to enable 31 life-saving medevacs.

War and maritime service aside, two Coast Guard personnel have gone on to become NASA shuttle astronauts, Bruce Melnick and Daniel Burbank. Also, several Coast Guard members attended U.S. Navy SEAL training under a 2010 agreement between the Navy and Coast Guard. The program has since been discontinued.

As they celebrate their birthday, there are more than 42,000 members currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in a fleet of 243 Cutters, 201 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and more than 1,650 boats.

Medals Authorized for COVID-19 Response

Armed Forces Service Medal and Ribbon

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan approved the award of the Humanitarian Service Medal and/or the Armed Forces Service Medal to eligible military personnel for qualifying coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) operations and activities. The period of the award is from Jan. 31, 2020 to a date to be determined.

“Given the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no designated area of eligibility, and award authorities determine eligibility based on the nature of the qualifying DoD COVID-19 operation and/or activity,” Donovan’s memo said.

Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel are eligible for the service medals as outlined in DoD Manual 1348.33, DoD Manual of Military Decorations and Awards — Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals. Award authorities determine which operations and/or activities are humanitarian in nature and warrant award of the Humanitarian Service Medal. Service personnel are not eligible for both the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal for the same period of service, activities, or deployment.

The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized for award to service members who deploy for at least 30 days (consecutively or non-consecutively). Donovan’s memo stated that the deployment requirement for the medal is waived for non-deployed service members, provided the service members were reassigned from their regular duties to perform COVID-19 operations or activities for at least 30 days. The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized after one day of service if the service member contracted the virus.

The Defense Department said that the military department secretaries determine eligibility for award to service members in his or her respective military department based on DoD award criteria. The chief of the National Guard Bureau determines eligibility for National Guard members who do not fall under the purview of a secretary of a military department.  

Service personnel with questions about the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal should contact their respective military department.

The Humanitarian Service Medal was established in 1977 and it recognizes service members who distinguish themselves by meritorious direct participation in a DoD-approved significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature. The Humanitarian Service Medal may be awarded to individual Service members, or entire military units. 

The Armed Forces Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who participate as members of U.S. military units in a military operation that is deemed significant by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile actions.  

According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Department of Defense spokesperson, “DoD has a total of more than 4,500 active duty personnel supporting COVID-19 response. That number includes 461 medical personnel providing direct support in Texas and California hospitals, and a variety of other activities across the country,” Mitchell said. “The National Guard has more than 24,000 Air and Army National Guard members supporting the effort nationwide,” Mitchell said.

As of July 29, 2020, the U.S. military has had 37,824 cases of COVID-19. A total of 58 people died in the Department of Defense from the coronavirus, including military, contractor, civilian and dependent personnel.  

Revisiting the National Guard’s Lineage Part IV

Old comic book of the forming of the first militia

I will end this series as I started it in part one. In that first essay I wrote that history is written by the victors and like all human endeavors, history is influenced by bias. Amidst the social unrest in our society right now I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the National Guard’s lineage. As a nation, we have built monuments to men who established this nation, but we never really acknowledged their human failings and their behavior and attitude toward their fellow man, particularly people of color. That is starting to change as we come to terms with our violent, racist history.

What continues to puzzle me is why when a historically marginalized population asks that as a nation, we reconsider history, why do some people take offense to it? Why are some people resistant to embracing changes to our national narrative? Those same people argue that we are trying to rewrite history or that we are being politically correct. People who argue those points have history working in their favor, so naturally they do not want it to change.

Within the Department of Defense, I have been surprised at the outspokenness of some of our former and current military leaders who have stated that military bases named after confederate generals should be renamed. These military leaders are modern thinkers, receptive to ideas because they have operated in a professional world where merit is based on performance and not the color of a person’s skin. That’s not to say the military is free of racists. There’s racial bias.

That’s what makes the National Guard’s response to my queries troubling. I asked for a response from the chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB), Gen. Joseph Lengyel. I sent an e-mail to Wayne Hall, a media operations specialist for the National Guard Bureau. I wrote: “What are the chief's thoughts that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people?  Has NGB ever thought of apologizing to the tribe? Has NGB ever considered changing its founding date to reflect alignment with American militias and not English militias that committed human rights violations?”

If you are unfamiliar with the massacre at the Mystic River, English militias surrounded a Pequot village, set it on fire and when tribe members tried to flee the burning palisades, they were shot, including women and children.

This was Hall’s reply to my questions: “The historical documentation used to prove the continuous existence of the four Massachusetts units since 1636, which the National Guard cites as its official establishment, is on file is at U.S. Army Center for Military History….” He added that I could get more information from the U.S. Army Center of Military History concerning methodology about the lineage and honors process.

Suspecting he did not understand my questions, I replied to Hall.

“Thanks Wayne, but I'm asking direct questions to the chief of the NGB (or his appointed rep on this topic). Are you declining to answer the questions I am asking? … What I am looking for are responses from NGB about the guard's alignment with those militias, not the process. I'd appreciate your help.”

Hall never replied.

Based on the reaction, NGB is not ready for or open to historical reflection. Remember, in other essays in this series I wrote about evasive NGB historians. When I persisted with my queries that were going unanswered, they accused me of having an agenda and as one historian said, they were told to “disengage” me.

With the NGB door closed, I queried the Department of Defense media relations division. This is verbatim from my e-mail to the press desk.

“What are the thoughts of the Army's Center of Military History that the National Guard aligns its lineage and history to militias that were responsible for the massacre and enslavement of the Pequot people? Has the US Army Center of Military History ever considered that they awarded lineage and honors to English militias that committed human rights violations? Now that we know this to be true, is there any consideration that the lineage could be revoked/rescinded? Why or why not? …”

The Pentagon replied with very long answers about the genesis of lineage and honors, citing a lot of regulations and orders. The comments bled into diatribes about the nationality of militias and then dates and names of units that earned lineage honors. The answers provided by Chief Historian Jon Hoffman of the U.S. Army Center of Military History did not answer my questions. But he did answer one worth mentioning here.

“The Center of Military History currently has no effort underway to evaluate the lineage and honors of units and determine whether the members of any particular unit might have been involved in a human rights violation,” Hoffman said. That response, of course, makes me ask, why not? Why isn’t the Center of Military History willing to re-examine its decision to align modern day National Guard units with English colonial militias that killed hundreds of Native Americans in a massacre? Who makes that decision? Remember what I wrote in the second paragraph of this essay? Hoffman’s remarks are disconcerting.

In part three of this series, I posited that the Florida National Guard might have been excluded from consideration as the “Nation’s First” militia because of their lineage with Spanish colonial militias. This is a point that Hoffman refutes because a Puerto Rican National Guard unit’s Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) includes Spanish symbols. He states because the DUI was created, the notion of Spanish Black Legend influencing NGB’s decision to crown the Massachusetts National Guard as the “Nation’s First” are not plausible. I believe that the existence of one, does not negate the existence of the other.  

If Hoffman’s argument was really true, then I could proclaim that because we had the Tuskegee Airmen there is no racism in the military. It’s a silly assertion. Think about what Colin Powell experienced, or Carl Brashear.

Some historians at NGB opined that the decision to align with English militias was made by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, not NGB, but that’s partially true. Army units submit documents to the Center supporting their positions and the Center reviews them for approval and then grants lineage and honors if everything is in order, but the entire process starts with a historian.

I asked several NGB historians who the NGB historian was that petitioned the U.S. Army Center of Military History for lineage honors connecting the English to the American modern National Guard. I never got an answer.

What I do know is that the chief of the NGB in 1956 was Maj. Gen. Edgar C. Erickson, a man who had fought against Pancho Villa. Did he have implicit bias? Did Spanish Black Legend influence him? I can’t answer that question. I know that men that I interviewed for an article about World War II that I was writing had not just bias, but malice for those they fought. When I pulled up in my Toyota truck, they were disgusted with me for buying something made by the Japanese. Not all who fought against the Japanese in World War II are like this, but the fact is, some people harbor dark feelings about those they’ve fought against.

Something important to note about Erickson is that he was born, raised and died in Massachusetts. He served in the Massachusetts state legislature and he was also the commander of the 181st Infantry Regiment, one of the four Massachusetts National Guard units considered to be the “Nation’s First.” That’s a big coincidence. Did Erickson influence the decision, push for Massachusetts to get tagged as the “Nation’s First” or was he biased towards his state and his former unit? It’s speculative. But given the lack of granular response by the NGB and the U.S. Army Center of Military History, there’s enough doubt surrounding the National Guard’s lineage to ask it to take a close look at itself. Remember, I asked NGB historians if they had ever traveled to Florida to take a look at Spanish militia documentation and like other questions, they ignored it.

And let me state clearly that I'm not advocating for Spanish Militias to be considered the first. I'm merely saying that decisions of the past can be clouded by bias.

Charles R. Bowery, Jr., the executive director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History said a couple of years ago “…that history should not be a bedtime story. Professional soldiers and our civilian leadership have an obligation to interrogate our past, ESPECIALLY the darkest corners, in order to improve ourselves.”

I agree with his bold statement and that’s been the point of this entire series, to encourage our military leaders to look at whether or not they want to align themselves with a dark history. The militias that the National Guard claims as its heritage were responsible for the first European massacre of Native Americans. Those English colonial militias are honored and celebrated as part of the National Guard’s legacy, and they killed women and children. Survivors were enslaved by the militias. Why is this issue not getting a second look? Why isn’t someone in the Defense Department, U.S. Army Center of Military History and the National Guard Bureau not asking themselves, is this really the heritage we want to embrace? Why isn’t anyone interrogating the past, as Bowery states?

On June 23, 2020, via Twitter, Bowery shared photos from Gettysburg, in front of a memorial to Pops Greene, a Union general who fought on Culp’s Hill. In the post he writes “Pops Greene, defender of Culp’s Hill, says that one! Take that *^%# Confederate memorial down! And the rest of them too!” After a few likes and comments, Bowery added to the thread. “And while you’re at it, change the post names and stop giving units lineage to the Confederate Army.”

A few days later, on July 2, 2020, he posted on Twitter “I’m here to remind Army leaders at all levels that @USArmy history and heritage are enablers of inspired, resilient, critically-thinking soldiers. You should be reinforcing the Army’s historical diversity, but also its challenges with racism and discrimination, with your soldiers.”

I tweeted at Bowery and asked him his thoughts about the Guard’s lineage. He never replied.

As of this writing, there are publications and comic books that depict the Pequot tribe as the aggressors in the decades long war with the English colonies. We know that history is a false narrative. The Pequot were trying to maintain their tradelines and defending against constant English expansion. NGB has these documents listed on their website as “Historical Publications.”

Let me wrap this up by saying that I served in the National Guard and I’ve served alongside of the National Guard. I’ve been with them during national disasters all over the United States and during the war in Iraq. They are a wonderful group of professionals.

I interviewed National Guard helicopter pilots after Hurricane Katrina. They were flying seemingly non-stop humanitarian aid and rescue missions knowing that their own homes were destroyed. I rolled into Gulf coast towns with National Guard engineers moving slowly into devastated neighborhoods and people came out of their homes crying, thankful to see them. On my first convoy in Iraq, the lead gunner wore a patch from a National Guard unit. 

My series is not an attack on the men and women of the National Guard. Read the body of my work over the course of my military writing career and you will find that I’m a friend of the National Guard and everything they do for their communities, states and for the nation. I’m just not a friend of obstructive bureaucrats.

Our Guard members deserve a better heritage than what they’ve been given.

Lone Star Gunfighters Train Warfighters

F-16 in flight

In 2016, while deployed to Afghanistan, Air Force Maj. Geffrey Gebhardt received an alert at his base that U.S. forces were in trouble. It is a story he reluctantly explains because he’s not a fan of telling “war stories.” 

“Weather was bad. Nobody was flying and we got a call that 200 miles away there was a base under attack,” Gebhardt said. 

Within minutes he was airborne, flying the highly maneuverable F-16 Fighting Falcon, a U.S. Air Force workhorse aircraft that has proven itself in combat. The weather, while bad, was no match for the F-16’s technology, which can locate targets in inclement weather during non-visual bombing conditions. 

As Gebhardt flew to the fight, he communicated with forces on the ground. In the background, he could hear the gunfire, shouting and chaos of the battle below him. Then Gebhardt inserted his aircraft in the airspace over the battlefield. 

“As soon as we got on station, the enemy shooting stopped,” Gebhardt said. “Our presence overhead made the enemy stop attacking our guys on the ground and that’s what it’s all about -- providing the support to those guys on the ground who are dodging bullets and need to stay safe. Sometimes that means dropping weapons, but other times it simply means being there ready to help.”

It is this type of operational experience that makes the Airmen of the 149th Fighter Wing a crucial part of the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 pilot training program. Warfighters, in short, can better teach warfighting. 

The 149th FW maintains a mobility commitment in many support areas including security forces, medical, civil engineering, services, transportation and military personnel. Instructor pilots like Gebhardt, who has amassed 1,500 hours in the cockpit, can deploy with other units to support combat operations. 

“We just had some people get back who deployed with other units,” Gebhardt said. “It keeps us fresh in the combat world of the F-16,” he said. “It allows us to identify what skills we need to teach students.”

The 149th FW, known as the Lone Star Gunfighters, is an F-16 training unit that is a part of the Texas Air National Guard and the Texas Military Department. Based out of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the cornerstone of the 149th FW's flying mission is the 182nd Fighter Squadron, whose role is to take pilots, either experienced aircrew or recent graduates from U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training, or UPT, and qualify them to fly the F-16. The unit trains F-16 pilots for the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard. 

“We are grateful to have a cadre of instructor pilots whose average time in the jet is somewhere around 1,500 hours,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Corey Hermesch said.

As a member of the unit for the past ten years, and an F-16 pilot with 2,600 hours, Hermesch speaks with a unique perspective.

“The experience in this group of instructor pilots is matched nowhere else in the USAF F-16 fleet,” he added.

Pilots of the 149th FW have a long lineage of combat experience dating back to World War II. The unit, then known as the 396th Fighter Squadron, distinguished itself in the air offensive in Europe, to include operations in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and throughout Central Europe. 

The Texas Air National Guard unit was later called up for the Korean War and it quickly became a widely lauded Air National Guard unit by being the first Air National Guard unit to enter combat, the first Air National Guard unit to shoot down a MiG-15, and the first to successfully demonstrate the applicability of aerial refueling during combat.

Aside from its vital role of being one of three F-16 training units in the U.S. Air Force, the 149th FW is home to the 149th Maintenance Group, 149th Operations Group, 149th Mission Support Group and the 149th Medical Group. In addition, the 149th FW has five geographically separated units: Texas Air National Guard Headquarters, 203rd Security Forces Squadron, 204th Security Forces Squadron, 209th Weather Flight, and 273rd Cyber Operations Squadron. 

The 149th FW was officially formed on Oct. 1, 1995, and it became an F-16 training unit in October 1999. The first class of active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve pilots began training in May 2000. 

“About 80 percent of them are from active duty,” Gebhardt said about the student populace.

He has trained more than 100 pilots since becoming an instructor pilot in 2009, a role he’s performed on active duty and in the Air National Guard. 

In addition to training pilots fresh out of UPT, the 149th FW also trains senior officers on the F-16 who might be assuming command of an F-16 unit and who are not qualified on the aircraft. However, the rigorous nine-month training program is mostly for brand new pilots, but the 149th also trains instructor pilot upgrade students, requalification students, and they have also trained students from the Pilot Training Next program which leverages virtual and augmented reality in an effort to streamline the Air Force’s effort to get qualified pilots in the air. Roughly 14 students fill each class.

The training starts with about a month’s worth of classroom time and F-16 simulator flying, and then pilots take to the skies.

Approximately 50 trainees attend F-16 training at the 149th FW each year, Hermesch said, and the 149th FW is one of two Air National Guard units that train pilots on the F-16. There is also an active duty Air Force unit with the same mission.

Chief Master Sgt. John Mead, 149th’s Maintenance Operations Flight superintendent, stated that planning is vital to the unit’s mission of training warfighters.

“We make sure we’re coordinating the maintenance and the flying plan and that they mesh seamlessly so we can have a good game plan each week and we can properly train our pilots and fly our missions,” Mead said.

Maintenance personnel ensure every component of the aircraft functions as expected. It enables the student pilots to experience, in a training environment, the maximum capabilities of the F-16. 

“Whenever they return to their units … they’re ready to step into their warfighting missions and go do the job,” Mead said. 

In the military, lessons learned in combat sharpen the skills of future warfighters when they are applied in training by instructors. Pilots like Gebhardt are a critical source of knowledge. Their experience enables them to better prepare pilots for the future fight.

“Combat experience for our IPs [instructor pilots] is important because it keeps our knowledge relevant for the fight that’s happening now,” Gebhardt said. “Within a year of graduating from our course some of these students will be flying missions in a combat theater and we need to be able to tell our students what they can expect the first time they fly an F-16 over hostile territory.”

The U.S. Air Force’s domestic support missions also provide pilots like Gebhardt unique events his fellow U.S. military aviators in other branches might not get. 

In 2008, while on active duty, Gebhardt was on alert status when a claxon sounded giving him several minutes to be airborne. It was Christmas Eve and he was flying toward Camp David to provide air cover protection for the president of the United States.

“The reason I tend to remember it is because I think it perfectly highlights what we do,” Gebhardt said. “I sacrificed my Christmas by sitting on base 24 hours a day ready to get airborne all so the rest of the country could enjoy their Christmas holiday,” he added.

Hermesch understands firsthand of the sacrifices made by Airmen around the world as they train for war. Sometimes aircrew training can be more perilous than combat missions. It is all part of the mantra, train as you fight; fight as you train.

Hermesch was forced to divert his F-16 to Keflavik, Iceland once while on a mission.

“We were 300 miles south of the island in the middle of the Atlantic, and all of a sudden, my single engine can’t produce enough thrust to keep me caught up with the tanker,” Hermesch said. “It had enough thrust to stay airborne, but not enough to refuel. We diverted to Keflavik, and landed without incident, after saying a few prayers on the way in,” he said.

After landing, Hermesch had time to reflect about what could have happened had his diversion been unsuccessful. It is one of his more memorable anecdotes as a pilot. 

“You can be exceptionally proud of the men and women who call themselves Gunfighters,” Hermesch said. “They focus on training, on developing people, accomplishing the mission, taking care of families, and serving their community like no other unit I’ve been a part of,” he said.